THE spotlight has been trained on Perak and its 24 parliamentary seats since opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced in October that he would contest the Tambun constituency in the 15th general election (GE15).
That town in Kinta district is not the only place in Perak welcoming a powerhouse, as a Barisan Nasional (BN) bigwig is hoping to win Sungai Siput, a constituency that is just a 45-minute drive from Tambun.
Tan Sri Vigneswaran Sanasee, president of MIC — a founding party of BN — has made himself known to the people of Sungai Siput through various services even though PKR has held the seat for the past two terms.
Meanwhile, Bagan Datuk, in the southwestern corner of Perak, sees BN chairman and Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi defending his seat for the sixth term. Zahid gained 86.24% of the valid votes on his debut there in 1995, but this number dwindled to 55.72% in 2008 (GE12), 53.27% in 2013 (GE13) and 51.37% in 2018 (GE14).
There is also the long-time president of the de-registered People’s Progressive Party (myPPP) Tan Sri M Kayveas, who is contesting Ipoh Barat, a constituency that is considered a safe haven for Pakatan Harapan (PH), specifically DAP’s M Kula Segaran, who has held the seat for four terms.
Kayveas was the member of parliament for Taiping when myPPP was still a component party of BN. This time around, he returns as an independent candidate, urging voters to select independent candidates over established political parties.
Anwar’s uphill task of getting Malay votes in Tambun
Despite being a political icon, the task of attracting Malay votes in Tambun does not come easy for Anwar, who is not from the area. The three other candidates he is competing with are from Perak. Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) incumbent MP Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu grew up in Ipoh, BN’s Datuk Aminuddin Md Hanafiah calls Tambun his kampung and Parti Pejuang Tanah Air’s Abdul Rahim Tahir was born in Pantai Remis.
In Pasar Manjoi, a main market for residents of Kampung Manjoi, businesswoman Rosni Ali tells The Edge that she is a strong supporter of BN. With her son Mohd Haiqal by her side, she says the entire family have an affinity for the coalition.
She gives a lengthy elaboration on how several generations of her household received much assistance during the tenure of Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah, a five-term Tambun MP from 1995 to 2018, as well as from Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir, former menteri besar of Perak before he was succeeded by Ahmad Faizal, who is better known as Peja.
“We are not afraid [of Anwar coming to Tambun], he is not from here, he is an outsider. Even if we lose, we will lose with dignity. We may lose only narrowly,” says the 44-year-old, as many passersby greet her.
Rosni admits that Anwar is more popular than Aminuddin, who was once Ahmad Husni’s political secretary, but says the people of Kampung Manjoi know Aminuddin.
Ahmad Faizal’s goofy personality seems to appeal to both young and old, even though he made the news for the boats he had bought. He clarified that he had bought two boats — one for RM50,000 and the other for RM80,000 — from a European sailor stranded in Malaysia during the Movement Control Order. The boats were later converted for tourism purposes in Langkawi, Kedah.
According to reports, Ahmad Faizal said he had bought the vessels cheaply and that they were not yachts, as being circulated on social media.
“I like his style, his personality. He is such a friendly character. Who doesn’t like him? Peja is doing something good. I’m following in his footsteps,” says Lexeween Selvan, 20.
Mohd Saad Ayub, 57, a self-employed resident of Klebang Jaya, also says he is a fan of Peja. “If Peja goes to PAS, I will also go with him. Anwar cannot win Malay votes, even getting 30% of Malays would be difficult.”
In the Chemor area, north of Klebang Jaya, hawker stall owner Cheong Chun Hing, who is in his thirties, says the Chinese population is in favour of PH coming to power and forming the federal government. “I think Anwar has a chance to win. The Chinese are supporting him.”
Voters miss Samy Vellu in Sungai Siput
This is the first time that Sungai Siput will see a seven-cornered fight, as the highest number of candidates in previous elections was only four. However, voters say the only candidates who matter are incumbent MP Kesavan Subramaniam of PH and Vigneswaran of BN.
In Taman Tun Sambanthan, the housing estate was mostly covered in BN’s blue paraphernalia. Many were seen wearing the coalition’s shirts and its political machinery looked formidable.
Selvarani Vitee, 50, who manages an Indian snacks stall, says both candidates as well as the parties they are with are equally capable and helpful to the community.
Another local Vivegananthan Kanasan, who has worked in Singapore for two decades, says he is determined to meet Vigneswaran in his hometown after hearing about the politician’s charitable activities over the past few years.
The Sungai Siput parliamentary seat had always been held by an MIC president, from Tun V T Sambanthan (1959 to 1974) to Tun Samy Vellu (1974 to 2008) until Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, on the PKR ticket, managed to break the streak in 2008.
A manager at a factory that makes automotive components, who wished to be known only as Benny, says Vigneswaran has an edge because people were comparing Kesavan’s term with that of Samy Vellu. “Nothing much has changed in the past three terms [under PKR]. People have put their hopes on Vigneswaran, who will be a minister if he wins. He is the MIC chairman and will help to develop this area,” the 60-year-old adds.
In the Malay-majority Lintang region, Kesavan is appreciated for his impartiality in helping all races. The people there are also fearful of allegedly corrupt leaders in BN.
“If Umno wins [because of Vigneswaran], who is at the top? Ahmad Zahid Hamidi? If Umno wins and frees the corruption-charged individuals, there will no longer be court action. I don’t want the robbers to lead,” says Kampung Trosor resident Salimi Osman, 50.
Showdown in Bagan Datuk
Zahid’s opponents in the last three elections were PKR candidates. This time around, PH has sent former PKR vice-president Datuk Seri Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin to challenge the incumbent.
Shamsul earned the title “giant slayer” when he defeated the then chief minister of Melaka Mohd Ali Rustam for the Hang Tuah Jaya (previously called Bukit Katil) seat in GE13. In GE14, the voters again chose Shamsul over Ali.
Zahid tells The Edge that it will be a “tough fight” and all four candidates have an “equal chance”, including PN’s Dr Muhammad Faiz Na’aman and independent candidate Mohamed Tawfik Tun Dr Ismail.
Notwithstanding that, Zahid’s ongoing court cases for money laundering, corruption and criminal breach of trust — a total of 47 charges — could affect the mood and confidence of young voters in the southwest district of Perak.
“Zahid’s corruption trial could affect the young people. They have seen many problems with the candidate from BN. Let the youth decide. We should be afraid of them because they are the ‘real’ voters,” says Azhari Hamid, village head of Kampung Tanah Lalang in the Hutan Melintang region.
In GE15, those in the 18 to 29 age group constitute 24% of the total voters in Bagan Datuk, with the majority of its population working in the fishing and agriculture sectors.
Azhari indicates that PH has voters’ confidence in Hutan Melintang as they are thirsting for development, which was not achieved during BN’s administration.
Within Bagan Datuk, the district of Rungkup, which has been an Umno stronghold, is expected to remain on the defensive in this election.
A Malay man chilling at a coffee shop outside Kampung Sungai Pergam, close to Kampung Tanah Lalang, sees BN winning. “Zahid is such a big name, it’s hard to beat him. He has been here [in Bagan Datuk] for a long time,” he says.
“Zahid is a friendly person and likes to help people. If he loses, he may lose by only a narrow margin,” says another Malay man from Kampung Sungai Pergam.
Status quo expected in Ipoh
Although the above-mentioned parliamentary seats seem fiercely contested, the same cannot be said for the Ipoh region, with most voters appearing to support PH regardless of the candidates fielded.
Uzairlail Hashmillail, a resident of Pasir Pinji, says he is not aware of politics in Ipoh Timor. The 25-year-old does not know incumbent MP Wong Kah Woh, who is leaving the parliamentary seat of Ipoh Timor to run in Taiping in GE15.
“I am not so into politics. We can’t predict [whether it remains a safe seat for PH], but [I think] PH will retain it,” he says.
Ipoh Barat first-time voter Lim Yue Xian says he likes PH more because his family voted for the coalition in the past. “Kula [the incumbent MP], we never get to see him much. Even the party I like [PH] does not really have a good candidate,” says the 20-year-old student who lives in Bercham.
On another note, Lim says MCA, which is under BN, has been more helpful to the needs of his relatives during the Movement Control Order (MCO) imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ipoh was a single federal constituency that was reorganised into Ipoh Timor and Ipoh Barat in 1995. When it was just Ipoh, myPPP held the seat from 1959 to 1974.